While 56% of SMEs use a banking and payments FinTech service, financial leaders are still slow to cede their attachment to Excel budgeting.
Because of this, budget strategy is often built around “dead” data: the outdated numbers in a static spreadsheet. Executive teams may review the shared file once a quarter (or once a month at best), but if managers aren’t timely about entering transaction data or filing expense reports, your business will be way behind the curve.
In “Finance Basics,” Harvard Business Review (HBR) says, “You need to understand the company strategy in order to create a useful budget.” Likewise, your budget can play a critical role in strategic decision-making if your financial data is “alive.”
The problem with dead data
Most accounting software has a built-in budgeting tool, so it’d seem natural that businesses would lean on their financial software to improve visibility into company spend.
However, it seems that a majority of finance leaders still opt for Excel as their budgeting software of choice.
We surveyed over 600 finance leaders to see what accounting software they used and “spreadsheets” were listed as the second most used accounting software—only 1% behind the most used option, QuickBooks Online.
Today’s budgeting “best practices” look something like this. Yikes.
McKinsey & Co ran a similar survey last year, with 30 senior executives at organizations of 2,000 or more employees. They found that 57% of finance executives were dissatisfied with the spend visibility in their companies.
If you can’t see where your company resources are going, you’re flying blind. Your budget can do more than just project and control expenses. If created as part of a deliberate process, it’s also a strategic tool that can help align teams and resources with your key business objective.
Being more strategic
In the same McKinsey & Co survey, almost half of the respondents said that at least 25% of their organization’s G&A spend was invested in the wrong areas relative to business strategy. To build a smarter budget, you have to start with your business objective.
Consider the objectives around your anchoring goal. For example, if your company’s goal is to increase revenue, your strategic budget will prioritize sales over capital investments. If you’re a big public company, you may optimize for certain margin thresholds. These objectives and anchors are going to look different for every company—based on type, industry, stage, and growth.
For example, one of our customers, Matt Hensley, the Director of Finance at Protomet, explained their budgeting strategy this way: “We don’t really have one big budget. We have a lot of cost centers. With custom fields in Divvy, we can track spending our way.”
HBR continues, “your budget should reflect realities in your own industry.” For many companies, this is the difference between a top-down or bottom-up approach.
Top-Down Budgeting (also called “Imposed” Budgeting) can be most effective for large enterprises with rigid market constraints. Bottom-Up Budgeting, on the other hand, can help SMBs by providing leadership teams with individual knowledge of daily operations. (“Negotiated” Budgeting is a combination of both styles, where executives and managers share the responsibility for budget planning).
HBR points out that “it’s easy to overlook big-picture goals as you get into line-by-line details.” Particularly in regards to budgeting and finances, McKinsey & Co research has found that only 20% of company time is devoted to strategic activities—leaving 80% to low-value data-related tasks.
Rather than relying on “dead” data, you can improve your budgeting strategy with “living” budgets.
How to breathe life into your budgets
Budgets that are used frequently become living documents or plans. These “living” budgets guide daily—not monthly or quarterly—decisions about how and how much your people spend, as well as your company’s long-term strategy.
When we surveyed 175 CFOs and VPs of Finance, 20% said that the primary pain point of expense reporting is that they lack real-time visibility into company spending. (Another 20% cited unapproved employee spending as the main problem). Tools like Divvy make it possible for everyone to see spend happening in real-time. Rather than waiting for the spreadsheet to be updated, executives can feel confident in daily financial decision-making knowing they have the most current data.
For a budget to be “living,” it has to be:
Executable—More than numbers on a page. Your business should have an efficient way to distribute allocated resources.
Visible—Every budget owner should be able to see what’s happening—in real time.
Adaptable—Regular budget analysis helps you continuously optimize your budget to align with business goals.
Even when a budget is built on strategy, it’s not a one-and-done process. With a living budget, you adjust and reallocate funds to better support the company’s vision. That way, when priorities change or new opportunities arise, you have the insights you need at your fingertips.
Real-time, living budgets that grow your business
“To respond to the unexpected, [budget] managers need new capabilities that show where they are and how much room they have to maneuver.” —McKinsey & Co
These “new capabilities” are often found in the right financial tech stack. The days of manual entry are behind us, and living budgets depend on automated expense management and accounting tools that give you real-time data.
For example, it’s the norm in today’s accounting software to sync transaction entries with owner’s bank accounts. However, this process becomes more challenging as businesses grow to have hundreds and thousands of employees who are responsible for company spend.
Software like Divvy syncs automatically with employee credit cards in order to allow finance leaders to see where company money is being spent—as it happens. Finance leaders can set budget limits on any employee’s card, so that no employee goes over budget.
Now, that’s more like it. Budgeting happens in real-time with Divvy.
Anthony Bott, Finance Executive and CPA at Jane.com, explains how they use Divvy to get granular with their budgets. In their company, Recruiting falls under the HR budget. However, since Jane.com recruiters have specific needs, he created a separate budget for them in Divvy—complete with budget limits and real-time transaction data.
Another Divvy customer, Lou Lombardo, CFO of Golf Genius, put it this way: “We’re saving thousands of dollars a quarter as a result of real-time budget tracking. Before Divvy, people would ask where they were against their budgets, and now we know.”
In order to create a living budget (and ditch the outdated spreadsheets), financial leaders need to be able to see spend as it’s happening. That’s where Divvy comes in.